Friday, 18 January 2013

Best Actor 2012: Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables

Hugh Jackman received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.

Les Miserables is a film with that pointless slight shaky cam for no good reason, dutch angels that are unnecessary, and close ups. Well really I thought the close ups worked for the most part, after all one of my favorite director Sergio Leone loved the close ups. The new song Suddenly seems like Oscar baiting since it is rather unremarkable, and it possibly displaced two superior songs. One being "Drink With Me" being truncated which is unfortunate considering the way the song so brilliantly shows the kinship between the students attempting a revolution but as well builds their despair as they see that their cause most likely will be lost. The other being "Dog Eats the Dog" which adds a very dark edge to Thernadier making him more than just comic relief, and I would have liked to see Sasha Baron Cohen perform it.

Also the editing of the film certainly is questionable at times for example it definitely should have shown Marius witness the aftermath of the revolution outside before "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables". Some of the singing could be question like Russell Crowe as Javert. I got use to his voice quickly though, as I am not a singing snob, and honestly I really liked his performance of the character's two major solos. With its flaws that certainly are there at most I could only think it is descent right? Wrong. I loved it and I have to say it. There are not many musicals I like but this one just hits me the right way. I loved the musical and I loved the film. The final emotional impact the film had on me the moment I finished overrode any of its issues for me, and none of the power of the musical was lost for me.

Well getting that out of the way, I suppose I should address how the leading man of the film is. An interesting fact is the last actor to win the best leading actor Oscar for a traditional musical, Rex Harrison for my Fair Lady, sang his songs live which is the same for Hugh Jackman in this film. This is a decision by Tom Hooper that was a intelligent one and for a musical as emotional as Les Miserables it allows the actors to properly punctuate the emotions of each song through their performances. Hugh Jackman has a many different songs through the film where Valjean is at vastly different emotional and physical states in the film, and this different style of singing gives Jackman the ability to voice Valjean differently which properly suggest the various states of Valjean.

Hugh Jackman singing voice is not nearly as full as the two other Valjean's in the concert versions of the musicals who are Alfie Boe, and Colm Wilkinson who is also in this film as the Bishop of Digne. Jackman's voice thought still fits his character, and perhaps even more so early on in the film when Valjean is first released from prison as an embittered man filled with disgust over his treatment by the world. Jackman is effective early on by intensely portraying this with Valjean in these moments, and properly shows Valjean as a man very much at the end of his rope. There is a lacking of humanity here no warmth, but instead Jackman properly reflects the pain of his character here, something the other two Valjeans did not do as much.

This performance really is one of fairly broad emotions by Jackman which makes since after all his character early on the film sings out loud about what his character is feeling. When Valjean is saved from prison once more by the Bishop of Digne's kindness and Jackman delivers the "soliloquy". One can't really be Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy when singing a song to the screen well battling a orchestra to be noticed. Jackman manages with this song, as well as most of the other songs in the film, as he gets across the broad gestures that are the emotions of the song a through as they should be, but it does not feel like he is going over the top. Jackman manages still to be as realistic as one could be when singing in such a way, and conveys the conflict both through the power of the song and his face.

After Valjean period of being an embittered man and finds success staying a purely good character throughout the rest of the film only being troubled by his past and a policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) who will not stop hounding him. Jackman is very much on the nose here in terms of his emotions and his way of playing the character. He really plays him straight as there are not a lot of surprises to be seen but nor are there surprises in the character of Valjean after the opening scenes. In many ways he is very much almost a straight man within the story always firmly there to be this positive moral center in the story. Jackman does this well though by being so very enthusiastic in the part. He properly does not have any play within Valjean, Valjean is a good man and he is right in just reinforcing this conviction with his performance.

Hugh Jackman through every scene he is does exactly what he needs to with the part, and every time succeeds in being exactly as Valjean should be. Whether it is his look of fear and surprise for seeing Javert again, to later being deeply saddened to fine the lowly state his former worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway) has fallen into, his resilience to do the right thing despite having some hesitations due to his fate when he sings "Who am I", to even being slightly comic in the scene where Valjean is not fooled a moment by the con man innkeeper Thernadier, Jackman always consistently gives the passion to the part. Every moment of the film he portrays the emotions directly and to the point that goes in line with Valjean perfectly. Through of the varying tones, and styles of the scenes Jackman weaves through all of them well never faulting in the wrong direction instead bringing the proper weight to each and every scene.

I would say the only lull in his performance is when the story jumps ahead again to Valjean taking care of the daughter of Fantine, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), and fleeing with her to Paris to avoid Javert. Now really is not Jackman's fault as the story shifts mostly to the revolutionaries and the romance between Cosette and Marius (Eddie Redmayne) a young revolutionary. Valjean is mostly pushed into the background but to be fair Jackman is still good in that he portrays the appropriate warmth in his scenes with Seyfried but as well the fear and hesitations within Valjean over his troublesome past. The only time I really has any problem with his performance was in the song "One Day More". Valjean's voice is the back bone of the song and in the song Jackman's voice simply does not support the rest of the voices as Valjean's is suppose to do. This is though is a minor point, and made up by the later scenes of his performance.

What I think really does work in his performance here is his ability to succeed in "Who am I". The number actually is quite problematic in that Valjean basically instantly cares about Marius's and desperately wants him to live. The suddenness of it is a problem surely, but Jackman completely unabashed manner is what makes it work. Yes it is sudden but Jackman sings his heart and is emotionally convincing in the moment despite how instant it all is. Jackman is even more effective though in the final scenes as Valjean falls into grief due his own self imposed exile from his adopted daughter to protect her from his past, and eventually dies. I absolutely love Jackman's last scene as he honestly is convincing in his dying by grief, and he beautifully portrays the happiness that appears back again in his face as he sees his adopted daughter one more time. Valjean's death at the end of the scene is meant to be sad, poignant, and inspiring all in the same breath and Jackman does it once again through his uncompromising devotion to the part.

To be perfectly honest Hugh Jackman is not one of my very favorite actors. I don't dislike him as he has certain charm and screen presence. This performance though absolutely works for me though, and is easily his best. The only time I have any issue with his performance with One Day More, but that honestly is almost a nitpick. Jackman handles the singing well and always with the song conveys the emotions right along with it. Now really if you don't go along with the film you definitely will not being going along with his performance. As someone who did go along right with the film Jackman served as a perfect anchor for the film. Hugh Jackman stands firm delivery a consistent powerful performance that goes straight ahead forward with the film, and if you are ready to go along with him he takes you right with him through every emotional step of the film.


Lezlie said...


Interesting review. I have to start by disagreeing with you right away. I did not go along with the film, but I went along with Jackman, and I liked his performance very much. Keeping in mind that I have not seen the musical before, this film was interesting for me, because the first part I enjoyed very much. Jackman was very convincing, despite sometimes having some minor issues with his singing, but it was a real pleasure to watch him. Even the aforementioned issues of the film (camera angles, closeups etc.) didn't take away the enjoyment of the story. However, after we jump ahead to the revolution, for me (and for my girlfriend, who loves the source material) the film became and overly long and tiring snooze-fest. I wish the main focus hadn't shifted to the revolution and the love triangle, and featured Jackman more. I wasn't very impressed with most of the performances, I found Russel Crowe kinda dull and stiff, and, while he handled his singing mostly without false notes, the thing is, he just simply doesn't have a nice singing voice. Out of the love triangle Samantha Barks was my favourite, but even she wasn't amazing by any means, I didn't really like neither Amanda Seyfried nor Eddie Redmayne. My favourite was Hugh Jackman, followed by Anne Hathaway (but I wasn't blown away by her That much, although I admit she was certainly good), and Sacha Baron Cohen gave a nice little comic relief-kinda performance.
Ugh I wrote a bit too much I think, lastly, I would ask how would you rate the other main performances from the film? :)

mrripley said...

I just disliked it and felt Anne was too actorly,hj was best..

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I didn't like it at all. I don't blame the actors, because I felt all of them tried to sell the hell out of it, but the direction ultimately drowned them. Or in Javert's case, broke his neck with a cartoonish splat sound.

Lezlie said...

That particular sound was the most Epic and WTF moment of the movie :D

RatedRStar said...

I think Hugh Jackman was great and carried this picture on his shoulders I like Jackman in general, even in bad work I still find Jackman quite warm and loving.

Michael Patison said...

I completely agree with your assessment of the film and of Jackman here. The only truly dramatically noteworthy role of Jackman's is The Prestige, and even that was nothing close to how he was here. I actually liked Suddenly, though I completely agree that what it replaced was better. I actually liked Russell Crowe as his regimented voice worked great for his authoritative role, but I did think his suicide scene didn't have the emotional umph it needed, an issue that I almost solely attribute to his vocal shortcomings.

As for the other performances, what'd you think of Hathaway, Redmayne, and Barks? I personally thought all 3 were great. I also really liked Cohen as seem to have as well. I also loved the inclusion of Wilkinson as the Bishop.

Louis Morgan said...

Lezlie: Hathaway I thought nailed here three important moments which are "IDAD", Fantine's Arrest, and her death. I think she had iffy moments in between that seemed a little calculated, but I found her successes easily outweighed the minor flaws in her performance.

Barks I thought was all together great.

Cosette honestly is not much of a part, but I thought Seyfried did just fine particularly in the last scene of the film.

Redmayne I thought was great actually. This is coming from someone who thought he was terrible in My Week With Marilyn. I thought he really made Marius work, and he very much delivered in all of his important scenes.

Crowe is stiff to a certain degree I think that fits the part, and I feel he was properly imposing. Also won thing that I really liked that they added was his seen where he pins the medal on Garvorche, I thought Crowe's silent reaction there was great. His voice is off putting, I got use to it, but I could see how some would not.

Cohen and Carter I thought were both fine and added the bits of humor nicely. I wish though they left Dog Eats the Dog though for Cohen as that really gives a greater complexity to the character.

kook160: I really don't disagree with you on most of your complaints, and that sound was hilarious. Like all of the other flaws it did nothing to take away from the overall effect of the film for me, or even of Crowe's performance. I don't think I'd nominate Hooper though even though I would nominate it for Best Picture, as in many ways I think the material pulled through his sometimes questionable directorial choices.

Lezlie said...

Now that you mentioned the scene in which Crowe pins his medal on Gavroche, it really was moving and great. Still, he wasn't my favourite part about the movie, I believe he could have been better, but it is possible that he just really put me off with his singing.

moviefilm said...

I doesn't happen very often, but I agree with you absolutely. Not just about Jackman, but even about the film and the entire cast. Extremely glad you liked him and extremely glad I was wrong with my prediction... :)

Michael Patison said...

I pretty much completely agree with your thoughts on Te performances too. I though Redmayne, Hathaway, and Barks were all great. I thought Crowe was pretty good and Seyfried was good though I do agree that Cosette isn't much of a character. I thought Cohen and Carter were quite entertaining, though I though Cohen pretty much stole every scene from Carter. I also thought the kid who played Gavroche was pretty good, as was the young Cosette.

Anonymous said...

I seem to be in the strange position of liking the film fine but not really liking Jackman's performance. I don't know, I didn't enjoy his singing and found him to be very obvious in all his acting decisions, which is probably appropriate for this particular musical. I don't know, Les Mis is so tough to judge for me. His early scenes were great, though.

dinasztie said...

His early scenes were almost amazing and then he just kind of disappeared. Otherwise enjoyable work that is the saving grace of this terrible movie.

joe burns said...

I agree here, though probably a 4 from me! The movie is great, but not perfect, but those are mostly flaws from the nature of the show (Overlong, ect). But like you, I loved it anyway.

Anonymous said...

I just got back from seeing this, and I'd probably give him a five actually. I thought he nailed every aspect of his performance.

Michael Patison said...

I think I'd give him a 5 as well as to DDL and Cooper.

On a completely different note, what other musicals do you like, Louis? I love Wicked and look forward to whenever it is made into a movie, though I would love to see Menzel and Chenoweth reprise their parts. I'm worried, though, because Stephen Daldry is slated to direct it whenever it goes into production, and he typically butchers everything he touches.

Louis Morgan said...

I would say the only musicals I like a lot are this, and Jesus Christ Superstar.

dshultz said...

I loved Jackman in this, I've always loved him anyways. I think that, apart from Jackman, the thing I loved most about this film was that it was so bombastic. It had the balls to be big, to be so blatantly emotionally manipulative, to have a message. These kind of singular yet surprisingly unoffensive movies are almost nonexistent in Hollywood these days.

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